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2012 Padres Preview: Padres 2012: Addressing Needs

Randy Ball

Randy Ball

Randy Ball writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


After a 2010 that saw the Padres win 90 times, within a game of getting the NL wild card, the follow-up was a 19 game decrease and residence in the cellar of the National League West. Manager Bud Black's biggest problem in 2011 was his team's inability to score and the next biggest was not even close. San Diego was dead last in all of baseball in batting average (.237), Slugging Percentage (.349) and OPS (.653), while finishing third with a 3.42 ERA. When a team can only score 3.7 runs a game, you have to look real hard to find roto bargains. The benefit to this season, however, is the Padres actually went out, realizing their problems, and addressed needs. The fact they went out and made the moves they made, while dealing with an ownership change, an entirely new front office and a fan base that is tired of being patient is somewhat remarkable. When all the dust clears, the net result of new General Manager Josh Byrnes' offseason may result in cheaper alternatives offensively, while most fantasy value continues to be the pitching; almost exclusively in the coziness of PETCO Park.

Offseason moves:

Traded pitcher Mat Latos for first baseman Yonder Alonso, catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger.

The trade of Latos, while not so popular, may have set San Diego up for a decent amount of time moving forward. With a net of three former first-round picks that are all under 27 years old, and another hard-thrower for his bullpen, Byrnes gave a roto-boost to those of us who find value in young keeper-types. Grandal made our prospect list (#51), as did Alonso (#71), and both have very little in their way to contend with on the big league level. Volquez will not replace Latos' effectiveness or strikeouts, but all pitchers benefit from pitching in San Diego and this one will likely be no different. Boxberger struck out 204 batters in 153.2 minor league innings and should provide Black another late-inning option.

Traded minor league pitchers Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez to the Chicago White Sox for outfielder Carlos Quentin.

This is a low-risk type of deal for San Diego, who as we've mentioned, are starving for any bat that can hit a gap every now and again. Quentin has his limitations, but he does not strike out very much and has 252 extra-base hits in six seasons of work. While his home run total may never be the same, he does have the benefit of playing 38 games in Arizona/Colorado and should play every day. Castro's departure was a bit surprising, but he had regressed in San Diego's system and ended with a 10.17 ERA in Triple-A Tucson a year ago.

Traded first baseman Anthony Rizzo and minor league pitcher Zach Cates to Chicago for pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-min Na.

Rizzo was a rocket ship through the All-Star break a year ago and, with Brad Hawpe hurt/struggling, then GM Jed Hoyer made the decision to promote the major piece he got from his former employer for Adrian Gonzalez. Rizzo and his 1.056 minor league OPS came to San Diego and it was supposed to be as if Gonzo never left. Who knew it would be an unmitigated disaster? Hoyer, for his part, convinced his new/old boss Theo Epstein to part with Cashner to get him back, but the damage to the Padres had been done. Cashner is a year older than Latos and is coming off a shoulder injury that knocked out most of his 2011. You hate to lean on a medical opinion when making a deal to trade your best prospects, but Cashner has very little to prove on the minor league level and should be given ample chance to pitch big league innings.

Acquired Huston Street from Colorado for a player to be named later, while losing Heath Bell to the Miami Marlins.

We obviously lump these two moves together, as Street is Bell's heir apparent to close games in San Diego. It's hard to know if Street will ever stay healthy, but he has always been effective (1.06 WHIP) and played the last three years in Coors Field. San Diego is on the hook for $7.5 million to Street this year and holds a mutual option in 2013, so Street has every incentive to be a 30+ save closer.
 
Traded pitcher Wade LeBlanc to the Miami Marlins for catcher John Baker.

San Diego's catching situation was seemingly Nick Hundley's to have in 2011, and he delivered the 85 games he usually does. Rob Johnson and others were left to their own devices and Black had two empty holes in the bottom of his lineup. LeBlanc played the Triple-A shuffle for most of the last two seasons and a change of scenery may make a difference. Baker and Hundley should provide value from this spot, with Hundley getting most of the opportunities.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Will Venable/Cameron Maybin
2. Orlando Hudson
3. Yonder Alonso
4. Carlos Quentin
5. Chase Headley
6. Nick Hundley
7. Cameron Maybin/Chris Denorfia
8. Jason Bartlett

On balance, the Padres lineup is a bit younger and speedier than a year ago, and with Quentin's presence Alonso should see pitches to hit. Headley, always a health risk, led all third baseman in doubles for most of season last year and is entering a crossroads. The 27-year old is entering the final year of his contract and will need to stay healthy enough to cash in next offseason. At print, Maybin is trying to work out an extension with San Diego and figures to be the center fielder for a long time and took steps in that direction in 2011. While his walk rate is not ideal for a leadoff type hitter, the 40+ steals are. Black tended to use Venable and Denorfia as a strict platoon a year ago and that figures to continue. There will be better options for most fantasy owners than Hudson, but he could be in line to score some runs if Alonso hits. With that, it appears the entire lineup's potential depends on whether Alonso is ready to stay at the big league level or if he needs more time.

Rotation:

1. Edinson Volquez
2. Tim Stauffer
3. Cory Luebke
4. Clayton Richard
5. Dustin Moseley/Andrew Cashner/Anthony Bass
 
Volquez is clearly the linchpin of this rotation, and if he can show that pitching outside of the Great American Ballpark is to his liking, there is a lot to like. Stauffer was San Diego's most consistent starter in 2011, leading the team with 20 quality starts and was blessed with 14 of those coming with San Diego scoring less than two runs. Luebke is the reason Byrnes was comfortable trading Latos, as the Padres saw enough of his 3.44 SO/BB ratio in 139.2 innings of work to know his left hand could be the ace of this staff. Richard has been virtually the same pitcher over the last two seasons and that is all Black will need from his fourth starter. One would think that Cashner has an open line to the fifth starter's job, but Bass and Moseley pitched for Black a year ago and neither are coming off a shoulder injury.
 
CL: Huston Street

There were a myriad of reasons the Rockies decided to hand Street over to a division rival, but Street will close in San Diego, for better or worse. Still only 28, the veteran right-hander does not have a lot to push him on his staff, but there could be some intriguing grabs if Street is ineffective or hurt. Luke Gregerson was supposed to be the Bell replacement, but struggled at times after Mike Adams left for Texas. Ernesto Frieri and Boxberger are possible as well, while newly signed Micah Owings is a long shot.

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

Much like a year ago, will anyone hit more than 20 home runs in 2012?

Quentin has the best chance, but San Diego will be hard pressed to find anyone else can possibly hit anything out of PETCO on a regular basis. While home runs tend to be a bit overrated, runs are not. Black will have to be as creative as he was a year ago, when San Diego led the National League with 170 stolen bases. All the ingredients remain for a running team, so if you are looking for power, you may need to search elsewhere.

How long will the Padres stick with Orlando Hudson?

Hudson, who seems older than his 34 years, is seemingly past the days of 500 at-bats and, while entering a contract year, struggled with the adjustment to National League pitching in 2011. He enters camp as the starter, but don't be surprised if you hear the name Cory Spangenberg before long.

How does the Alonso acquisition affect Jesus Guzman?

Guzman was given the chance to play first base last year and he certainly didn't waste the opportunity. In 271 plate appearances over 76 games, he posted a slash line of .316/.369/.478 with five home runs, 44 RBI and nine stolen bases. While a .360 BABIP certainly contributed to his sound level of productivity, it should be noted that he's posted high BABIP totals throughout his time in the minors and has supplemented it with strikeout rates under 16 percent over the last three seasons. Alonso will be given every chance to prove the hype, while Guzman will likely be in the mix at some point.

What will become of Edinson Volquez?

Volquez was one of the huge disappointments of the 2011 season, finishing with a 5.71 ERA and 1.574 WHIP. First innings were particularly disastrous for him, especially early in the season. Batters facing him on his first 15 pitches in a given start hit a collective .393/.493/.687 with seven homers and 10 walks.
Volquez's velocity remains intact, but his control, never a strong point, took a turn for the worse. Without significant improvements in his command, Volquez's future as a major league starter is in doubt. Petco
Park won't cure his control issues, but it should help to cure some of his gopheritis.

Is Cory Luebke ready to take the next step?

The Padres' young southpaw had a tremendous first full season in 2011. He began the year as a member of the bullpen and after posting an ERA of 3.12 with a 2.85 K/BB and was subsequently promoted to the rotation in late June where he posted a 3.38 ERA with a 3.55 K/BB through 104 innings in 17 starts. He also managed a 0.77 HR/9IP and held the opposition to a .204 BAA. Luebke should remain in the rotation in 2012 and can be considered a solid late-round sleeper.

Strengths:  For all the movement, San Diego's biggest strength is their ballpark. The Padres will nearly have most of their starters' ERA's under 4.00 again and those kind of numbers do not hurt you in most fantasy formats. Luebke and Alonso provide some keeper-ability, while most of the offense you will want from this team is stolen bases.

Weaknesses:  We think it goes without saying that San Diego will struggle to score runs again in 2012. While their ballpark helps them pitching-wise, it taketh away from their lineup. Bud Black has to hope manufacturing runs works in two of the last three years, or this could be another long season in the Gaslamp.

Rising: Yonder Alonso - At the plate, Alonso hit a robust .330/.398/.545 in 88 at-bats, fueled by a .387 BABIP. Alonso hasn't yet hit for the power many had hoped for from the 2008 first-round pick, but many believe that still could be coming. The Reds included him in a package sent to the Padres for Mat Latos in December, which finally removed Joey Votto as a roadblock to playing time at first base. Now that “lack of position” is no longer a part of his scouting report, Alonso is a nice sleeper after delivering a .943 OPS in limited duty as a 24-year-old for the Reds last season. The Padres traded Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs in January, so Alonso appears to be the favorite to start at first base come Opening Day.

Falling: Jason Bartlett - While Bartlett showed a slight resurgence in speed, posting 23 steals in 2011, his overall production took a hit during his first year in San Diego. He continued to make decent contact at the plate, but it certainly wasn't solid contact as evidenced by his 51.2 percent groundball rate and woeful .308 OBP. He's shown decent plate discipline in the past, but with a steadily declining contact rate and decreasing walk rate, there doesn't seem to be much improvement on the horizon. It seems that 2009 was the peak and it's been downhill since.

Sleeper: Casey Kelly - Obtained in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Kelly saw some decent improvement at Double-A in 2011. His K/9IP dropped to 6.64 but that was much more in line with his career average. However, he also dropped his walks which allowed his K/BB ratio to remain consistent and he cut his HR/9IP almost in half. The club is helping him make adjustments by raising his three-quarter arm slot just a bit and that seems to be reflecting in his above-average control -- a necessity given that he doesn't blow you away with his fastball which tops out around 93 mph. One final note is that Kelly has always been a two-way player with decent range at shortstop. How long that continues remains to be seen, but it's certainly something to watch as he makes his way through the system.

Supersleeper: Cory Spangenberg - Spangenberg was taken 10th overall in the 2011 draft by the Padres and immediately lived up to the hype when he debuted at Low-A ball and posted a .384/.545/.535 slash line over 20 games. He was advanced to High-A where he struggled with strikeouts a bit but still managed a .345 OBP. He is expected to hit for a high average although just how much power he will develop is yet to be seen. He'll likely begin the season back in High-A again in 2012, but should move fairly quickly through the system.

Here's a rundown of the players not listed above:

Chris Denorfia - Denorfia is a solid bench player and makes for a good fourth outfielder on any major league roster. However, his upside in fantasy is very limited as he has neither the power nor the speed to make a significant impact. He's got only 23 stolen bases at the major league level, has a below-average .124 ISO, and a career slash line of .275/.342/.399. He'll work his way into an outfield platoon in 2012, but barring injury, nothing more than that.

Will Venable - Until he learns to make the necessary adjustments to his plate discipline and hit better against left-handed pitching, Venable will probably never be more than just a platoon outfielder in 2012. He swings at far too many pitches outside the zone and has posted a career 12.0 swinging-strike percentage over a four-year span. His contact rate improved slightly in 2011, but between a 22.4 percent strikeout rate and a walk rate of just 7.5 percent, his OBP dropped to a career-worst .310. His biggest asset right now is his speed, having swiped 55 bases with an 84.6 percent success rate, but without any real power or decent on-base skills, his fantasy upside becomes limited.

Cameron Maybin - Apparently, all it took for Maybin to start delivering on that five-tool potential was a trade to San Diego. After three disappointing and injury plagued seasons with the Marlins, Maybin finished 2011 with a .264/.323/.393 line. While those averages don't seem all that exciting, they are, for all intents and purposes, a career best and a staunch improvement from previous seasons. He also hit nine home runs and stole 40 bases and entrenched himself as the Padres' full-time, starting center fielder. His minor league totals always showed that he had the skill set to produce at this level and if he can continue to reduce the strikeouts as he's done, he'll be in line for a breakout season in 2012.

Kyle Blanks - With the help of a strong walk rate, Blanks has traditionally posted a high OBP (>.380) and has displayed great power potential, however, he has had his difficulty with the adjustments to major league pitching. If he can reduce his 31.5 percent strikeout rate, maintain his walk rate and improve on his .195 average against southpaws, Blanks could eventually work his way into a platoon situation despite a murky outlook for playing time heading into spring training following the Padres' offseason additions to the outfield mix.

Nick Hundley - Mediocre power numbers, a career .302 OBP, a below-average strikeout rate and injuries have all led Hundley to being an afterthought in fantasy circles. He's never played in more than 85 games in a season and, with a poor contact rate, has failed to deliver on most of the promise he showed in the minors. However, after mid-season surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow last year, Hundley's bat seemed to turn a corner. Over the final two months of 2011, he mashed six home runs, posted a 1.060 OPS and significantly dropped his strikeouts. The Padres expect him to assume primary catching duties in 2012, so if he can carry this momentum into the spring he could prove to be a nice sleeper while Yasmani Grandal finishes his minor league development.

Everth Cabrera - Cabrera may have seen his opportunity pass when his follow-up to a solid 2009 debut was derailed by injuries. With Jason Bartlett under contract for 2012, odds are that Cabrera will stay in Triple-A again, though with little else to prove. He doesn't have any real pop in his bat, but he does have decent speed (72.5 percent success rate on stolen-base attempts) and has proven able to get on base at a decent clip - though his minor league OBP certainly outshines that of his in the majors. Unfortunately, though, he seems destined to remain a backup or, at best, a utility infielder in the near future.

Tim Stauffer - Some would think that a jump in ERA from 1.82 in 2010 to 3.73 in 2011 would indicate a major decline, but considering Stauffer started 24 more games and threw over 100 more innings last year while maintaining similar K/BB and K/9IP totals, he proved his consistency and that he is maturing as a starter. From a stuff standpoint, there's nothing overwhelming about him and for a guy who pitches half his games at Petco, the 12.5 percent HR/FB rate was a bit much. But as a groundball pitcher with a career 6.7 K/9IP, he's definitely serviceable as a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher. He should slot in as the Padres' No. 2 starter in 2012.

Top Prospects

Yonder Alonso - Should begin the season as the everyday first baseman and have every opportunity to show that he is ready.

Casey Kelly - Very likely to begin the season in Triple-A Tucson, but not far from San Diego at any given moment.

Rymer Liriano - Liriano has a very long way to go before he'll make his big league debut, but at just 20 years old, he has plenty of time to continue his development. He began last season with the Padres' Low-A affiliate and actually fared well, posting a .319/.383/.499 slash line with an improved 18.3 percent strikeout rate. However, upon his promotion to the High-A level he struggled mightily with a .213 OBP and a strikeout rate that hit 21.7 percent, so it could take some time. His biggest asset is his speed, as evidenced by his 66 stolen bases and 74.7 percent success rate, but as the old adage goes, you can't steal first base. He'll likely start 2012 in High-A again and from there, we can better determine whether or not he can make another jump in level.

Cory Spangenberg - This is due to the fact the Padres have zero infield depth and Orlando Hudson may be in the twilight. Spangenberg is still only 22 years old, but if he can hit through the system, San Diego would be happy for him to take his lumps in the big leagues.

Yasmani Grandal - The Reds were in an enviable position to have two high-ceiling catching prospects in the system in Grandal and Devin Mesoraco. That depth was leveraged with the acquisition of Mat Latos in December, which made Grandal the catcher of the future in San Diego. Grandal progressed from High-A to Triple-A at the end of last season, though an injured left hand ended a campaign in the Arizona Fall League. It may not take him long to supplant Nick Hundley with his new organization. He eventually projects as a high-average hitter with the potential to hit 20 homers at the major league level.